Say a prayer for dentistry

`I won`t have a coach class in my dental practice; who cares about disease anymore? That cosmetic stuff is where the gold is. I am preaching that everyone will be flying first class in my practice, and I am saying these lost souls will emerge from my office with the look of the reborn.`

`I won`t have a coach class in my dental practice; who cares about disease anymore? That cosmetic stuff is where the gold is. I am preaching that everyone will be flying first class in my practice, and I am saying these lost souls will emerge from my office with the look of the reborn.`

Editor Mark Hartley can be contacted at markh@pennwell.com

A former tele-evangelist sat down and sipped coffee alongside me. He was a little down in his spirits about being unemployed, but he perked up when he heard my connection with dentistry. "Now there`s some gold fields!" he exclaimed.

I acknowledged that dentists are hardly impoverished. But I added that I don`t see a lot of gold these days - in or out of the mouth. Dental staff members don`t flaunt much gold, simply because policy manuals generally discourage jewelry in the office. My suggestion was that he might want to consider the occupation of another patron in the diner as the answer to his prayers.

He winked at me. Since men who wink are generally untrustworthy, in my opinion, I seriously pondered relocation to another stool. "Hey, you don`t have to pull the wool over my eyes, sonny. I`ve seen the light - it`s three letters: DDS," he said.

"How so?" Hey, if journalists don`t ask the questions, who will?

"I`ve done my reading, boy!" he snorted, "Being a dentist would suit my natural talents."

I assumed he was talking about holistic dentistry - that combination of healing the soul along with the mouth. But I still was having trouble with the connection, and I admitted as much.

"Well, for starters, evangelists and dentists both like to put one hand on the head while the other hand checks out the thickness of the wallet," he said, while opening a free package of crackers to complement the coffee.

The guy apparently thinks greed is the predominant characteristic of dentists. Yes, some dentists seem a little too preoccupied about the "million dollar practice," and, yes, some dentists think the best way to reduce staff overhead is to recruit unpaid volunteers. But this con artist`s claim that shady evangelists and dentists graduate from the same school of fast bucks was a little too outrageous for me.

"Don`t you think you should crawl back into the gutter or something?" I asked not-so-politely. "There is no way you can compare your last job with the folks who work in dentistry."

"Fee-for-service," he replied.

"Beg your pardon?"

"You heard me," he replied, "or as I like to refer to it, my-fee-or-the-highway."

The image of fee-for-service practices, I admitted, always has been one of elitism. The doctors adopt some high-falutin` airs. I suspect that one day we`ll read about manicurists and masseurs joining the payroll of these practices. But, regardless of whether you travel first class or coach, the plane still goes to the same destination: good oral health. It depends on whether you want to pay for the "comforts" or not. No sleazy hustling there, I pointed out; it`s merely the consumer`s choice of style.

"Maybe so, maybe not," he replied.

"What`s that supposed to mean?"

"Well, there`s a big problem with your scenario there, Bubba. If we`re talking about slapping fillings in two different ways - that`s one thing. Your first class patient gets a thank-you hug, while your coach patient is told to follow the exit signs as quickly as he can walk. Because, as you know, you have to pack in those coach patients and keep the line moving."

Then he gave me another one of those winks. "But what I`m talking about are the gold nuggets out there for the picking. I won`t have a coach class in my dental practice; who cares about disease anymore? That cosmetic stuff is where the gold is. I am preaching that everyone will be flying first class in my practice, and I am saying these lost souls will emerge from my office with the look of the reborn. They will dazzle everyone in their paths. Guys will get dates just by flashing those pearly whites I give them. And, of course, I`ll have a 300 percent markup on all my expenses - a small price for them to pay for looking good."

His oratory sounded a little thunderous to me, and it rendered me speechless. I mumbled something about how women like men who smile with sincerity - not with flawless teeth. His condescending smirk was the only thing that reminded me about why he failed at evangelism. Hopefully, it would prove to be his undoing in dentistry, as well.

I finished my coffee and left.

The conversation above, of course, never happened. But it could, I think, because of the words I`ve heard at seminars and words I`ve read in dental journals. Say a prayer for dentistry.

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